The Days Are Surely Coming

Last summer, archeologists from UNC Charlotte made a significant discovery while they were working in Jerusalem. They uncovered physical evidence of the Babylonian conquest in 587-586 BC. In the ashen layer they found usual household items, pottery, lamps, arrowheads like the ones used by Babylonian warriors, and a gold and silver earring. These artifacts come from the people Jeremiah was prophesying to. Scholars are pointing to the earring as evidence of the wealth of the city. Life was good when Jeremiah first started prophesying. King Josiah was ruler. The countries around were fighting – Assyria and Egypt and Babylon – always struggling for more land. But there in the middle, they were like a little utopian oasis, following God’s laws, worshipping in the Temple. But after King Josiah died, his sons didn’t lead the people in obeying and worshipping God. There was a skirmish with Egypt, and then the Babylonians came. They burned the cities, they drove the people out of their homeland, they destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem.

Our passage this morning was to God’s people in exile – the promise of a new king, one that God would raise up from the stump of King David’s line. A king who would be wise and just, who will do what is right and lead and protect God’s people like a shepherd cares for his sheep.

Today, when we hear God’s promise, we hear them from the perspective of people who know how Jesus fits Jeremiah’s description. We know the king who is wise and just, who lived without sin and is our Good Shepherd. When we read Jeremiah say, “This is the name by which he will be called:The LORD Our Righteous Savior.” We think of Christ our King.

So, this is the Old Testament lectionary text today for Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian year. Christ the King Sunday is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar. It isn’t surrounded by secular traditions like Christmas and Easter, or really any traditions for that matter. I passed by the Sanctuary on Friday as Anthony was working and noticed the white paraments and thought for half a second…why are those white, it’s not a Communion Sunday. And just as quickly I remembered, oh, yes, it’s Christ the King Sunday. Every Sunday on which we celebrate Jesus we have white paraments. Sundays when we celebrate a Sacrament – a baptism or communion, Christmas, Baptism of the Lord, Transfiguration, Easter, Trinity Sunday, and Christ the King Sunday.

But, to be honest, Christ the King Sunday has always been a little bit odd to me. We are encouraged on this last Sunday of the year before we begin again with Advent to look back over the year and think about the things we learned about Jesus. The Companion to our Book of Common Worship states that “The festival of Christ the King (or Reign of Christ) ends our marking of Ordinary Time after the Day of Pentecost, and moves us to the threshold of Advent, the season of hope for Christ’s coming again at the end of time.” But I’ve been unconvinced, to be honest. It has seemed to me a little bit like a made up holiday, until I started reading about why it was established.

In 1925, in the middle of the Roaring 20’s, a time of prosperity and mass consumerism, Pope Pious XI was concerned. He saw the rise in secularism. He saw fascist governments emerging, authoritarian regimes, nationalism, and he realized that even Christians were not turning to Christ as the authority in their lives. He wrote, “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony… If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquility, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent.

Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished.”

And then I understood. In times of prosperity, when life is good, we have a tendency – a tendency to stray. A tendency to go it on our own. Paul knew that. The Colossians were doing well, and he prayed,” May God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants for you…and that you will learn to give thanks.” That it will become instinctual that the source of everything good, every ability you have to bear fruit, every bit of patience and joy is God. “What Paul most wants to see growing in the church, as a sign of healthy Christian life on the way to maturity, is gratitude {gratitude} to God for the extraordinary things he’s done in Jesus, and the remarkable things he is continuing to do in the world and in {our} lives (N.T. Wright).”

Because if we as Christians forget who God really is in our lives, we are like this bear cub we saw on the beach in Alaska. Chris and I and his parents were whale watching, and our guide pointed out this cub on the beach, alone. We, of course, were excited to see him. We took pictures. I asked, “Is momma just in the woods there watching?” Our guides face changed. “No,” he said, “he is dying. He is starving. He is not with his mother, and he has failed to learn her lessons. The only reason he would be on the beach is that he is desperate for food. He will be easy pickings here.”

That is why we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, so we don’t forget who God really is in our lives and wind up on the beach searching for any kind of food because we are starving and become easy pickings for secularism and nationalism and the powers of this world.

Who is King in your life? It is a very important question. Today is a day to pause and reflect on how we are doing at following Jesus – not just in our church attendance and our giving patterns and our participation in mission and service – in our society, as Americans, as world citizens. How are we doing? Because next week, Advent begins, the time for preparing for Christ’s coming…not just 2000 years ago, not just Christ’s return, but Christ the King’s coming in our lives even today.

“Archaeologists find evidence of Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem — as told in the Bible” by Matthew Robinson, Updated 12th August 2019